Four-box ad agency new business growth strategy

Have you read “Every Business is a Growth Business“?  This is a smart, timeless book. And I thought you might appreciate how one of the chapters “Strategy from the Outside In” might be applied to the agency business.

In this chapter, authors Ram Charan and Noel Tichy set up the idea of a four-box to help activate growth thinking that starts from the market’s perspective. The upper left quadrant represents existing customers, new needs. The upper right, new customers, new needs. Bottom left: existing customers, existing needs. And yup, you guessed it, the bottom right is new customer, existing needs.

To serve that last quadrant, a common agency strategy is to take their existing services and the categories that buy them and red-dedefine their experience to fit over a broader, new set of clients/categories. A classic example might be agencies that work on “passion” brands. Or agencies that focus on kids from 2 – 12. Or if there’s a geographic limit on their clients’ reach, an agency will explore a licensing or simply try pitching their services in non-competive markets.

What about the other quadrants? They deserve some love, too. Selling a new service to an existing client can be a heck of a lot easier. After all, you know these clients well. Think beyond just trying to nip away at other marcom services. Stretch a bit into related, contiguous areas. Some thought-starters:

  • How do they develop new products?
  • How is the stakeholder chain aligned around marketing ideas?
  • How do they get their competitive intelligence?
  • How might you bring efficiency to their marketing process?
  • Etc.

Some other questions (more related to the bread and butter agency services):

  • Can you move across the company (more brands and/or divisions)?
  • What have you learned from HR and Sales departments? What needs might they have you can address?
  • What do you learn when you walk the proverbial halls? What corporate initiatives fit your services?

Looking for growth with existing clients and existing services? Get outta there if you can. Many companies in this area make their yearly revenues through efficiency measures. (So, trimming up your P&L.)

Very interesting to see that we, as an industry, have been stuck in the bottom half of the boxes – traditional pitches are merely the same services, offered up by different agencies.

The upper right quadrant, new client, new services is a heck of a lot harder and riskier area to get into. But let’s save that for another post!

Two new things come to mind as I look at this framework and see some of the trends happening in our space: crowdsourcing and agencies jumping into the venture capital business. Where do these trends fall in our framework?

Would love to hear from you! Happy thinking.